On Saturday, June 14th, Lewis Avenue in Brooklyn was overflowing with active, enthusiastic health, wellness, food justice and sustainability advocates. Teens, staff and mentors from Students for Service joined New Beginnings Charter School students, parents, teachers, and representatives of community partner organizations for the final Teens for Food Justice service day of the school year!
This exciting celebration, chock full of fun, educational, and empowering activities, brought the first year of Teens for Food Justice to a resounding close, and marked eight months of successful service to the New Beginnings and Bed-Stuy community by the teen volunteer and mentor team.
A Year of Learning for a Healthier, Fairer, More Sustainable World
Called Bringing Food Justice to Bed-Stuy, this celebration showcased the wide range of health and sustainability tools that the teen volunteer team learned and shared throughout the year. The teens also engaged the community in activities to raise awareness of and generate conversations about unequal food access in New York as well as a strong food justice advocacy movement within the school community.
A Carnival Atmosphere for an Empowering Educational Afternoon
The Teens for Food Justice team literally took over the New Beginnings Charter School building, with activities on every floor from the basement to the top. Teachers joined the teens and mentors to engage families in a veritable carnival of activities that touched upon every aspect of the Teens for Food Justice program.
A Cornucopia of Food to Grow, Taste, and Discover
Simple hydroponic & soil-based growing at home
Teen volunteers and mentors led workshops for families in the basics of soil versus hydroponic growing systems. Children planted seeds in both soil and hydroponic mini systems to take home – which they covered in stickers and other fun decorations! By now, dozens of Swiss chard and basil plants are thriving in Bed-Stuy homes.
Smoothies, juices & yummy recipes for a healthy summer!
Chef Lauren Unger of Hint of Greens was back with delicious nutritious summer snacks. Families tasted collard green slaw, Swiss chard wraps, Kale pesto/white bean dip and Quinoa Caprese salad, yum and took home simple recipes for preparing these affordable healthy foods at home. Thanks, Lauren! Teens also blended up delicious kale smoothies and carrot ginger juice, both big hits.
Tours of the Teens for Food Justice classroom farm
Families toured the school’s fifth floor classroom farm with teens and mentors and with representatives of NY Sun Works, the partner organization that taught and led the teen team in constructing and managing the hydroponic systems. NY Sun Works also provided information on their other hydroponic classroom greenhouses throughout NYC and in a range of hydroponic and other sustainable growing and living practices. A huge shout out to NY Sun Works for their great work in New York City schools and with our team this year!
A community recipe book
Family members shared their favorite healthy recipes for a school-wide cookbook to be distributed and incorporated into projects next year.
Building a Sustainable Bed-Stuy
Composting and recycling
Students for Service Sustainability Manager/Board Member Valerie Soll and mentor Kellen Medway led workshops in composting and recycling to help the community implement these sustainable practices at home. In addition to games and activities to teach families on-site, lots of information and tools, including a home composting container, were given as takeaways to make these new ideas easy to incorporate into home routines.
Neighborhood tree care project
Families joined Jessica Colaizzi, tree care workshop leader from MillionTreesNYC, in a project to make the community greener. Two tree pits at the corner of the school, once crowded by huge patches of weeds, were cleaned and adorned with beautiful blue flowers, making the area prettier and healthier for the trees and residents.
Bringing Food Justice to Bed-Stuy
Americorps volunteers working with New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) joined the outreach day to spread the word about food benefits access and food assistance programs, such as Summer Meals.
Meanwhile, mentor Chanelle Sears worked with teen volunteers to engage families in discussions and activities designed to generate conversation around food insecurity and local food justice advocacy. The result: local politicians and media outlets will receive photos of community members with their messages demanding attention to critical issues such as the media’s inadequate coverage of childhood hunger and food insecurity in America, particularly among America’s working poor.
Staying Fit Together
Back by popular demand: Mentor Dan O’Halloran and the teen fitness team taught how to stay fit without a gym membership and to bring out the fun in fitness! Everyone went home with a water bottle, jump rope, theraband and a home fitness drill to keep the momentum up this summer.
Taking health & wellness practices home: giveaways & raffle prizes!
By the end of the event, New Beginnings families sported tote bags full of giveaways – therabands, jumpropes, pedometers, water bottles, hydroponic and soil vegetable planters, composters and more. Raffle prizes included Modell’s gift cards and a grand prize of 11 weeks of produce from a local CSA this summer.
The pedometer project & scavenger map: a fitness adventure
Part of the fun each service day is tackling challenges head on and working together to find creative solutions.
The challenge: New Beginnings Charter School is five stories high. Hiking the 140+ stairs between the gym (a full 2.5 stories below the ground floor) and the 5th-floor classroom farm in 80-degree weather was no small feat.
Luckily, we had a plan: Participants were given a pedometer at their arrival, and at the end of the day, they recorded the total number of steps they walked throughout the event, making sure they hit every workshop and claimed a sticker for their scavenger maps (which were beautifully designed and illustrated by Mentor Sarena Bernard).
The result: An excited and enthusiastic community counted all of their steps throughout the day for a grand event-wide total of 90 MILES of steps!
Successes and Celebrations
The day ended with closing ceremonies to congratulate the teen and mentor team on an amazing first year. Everyone reflected on the friends they made, the team they built, the produce they grew and the many positive and meaningful outcomes of their very hard work to cultivate the greenhouse as a hub of community health and wellness in just eight short months.
Our proudest moment came with the announcement that every mentor and all seven teen volunteers who are not graduating this year will be returning for Year 2 of Teens for Food Justice next fall in Bed-Stuy. And, our three teen graduates who will attend college in NYC will join our mentor team. We could not be more excited to welcome these experienced volunteers into new leadership roles!
Stay tuned for more news of New Beginnings next year!